The seven-year-old YouTuber earning £17m a year

The life of Ryan: His YouTube channel uploads one new toy video every day. © Ryan ToysReview

Is becoming a YouTuber a good career goal? Around one third of children dream of vlogging when they grow up. In 2018, the platform’s highest earning star was a seven-year-old boy named Ryan...

YouTube’s top earner has spent three years building up a dedicated audience. He has 17.4 million subscribers, racking up 26 billion views and he earned £17.3 million between June 2017 and June 2018 — making him YouTube’s highest-paid star, according to Forbes. He is also seven years old.

Meet Ryan, from the channel Ryan ToyReviews. Like any other child his age, he loves to play. The only difference is that he does it in front of a camera, unboxing a new toy almost every day. When a journalist asked him why these videos were so popular, he explained: “because I’m entertaining and I’m funny.”

Most of his fortune comes from the advertising that plays before each video, although around £1 million came from sponsorships. Due to his age, 15% of his earnings are locked away until he is an adult. The channel’s “about” page says that most of the toys featured are donated to a local charity.

Forbes’s top 10 also included five gamers, Logan and Jake Paul, and make-up artist Jeffree Star. They earned £143.8 million between them in a year.

But is being a YouTube star a good career? It is regularly described as the “best job in the world” by those who have it, and around one third of young people want to be a YouTuber.

However, “day-to-day life is much less glamorous than it may seem,” YouTuber Jim Chapman wrote back in 2014. Although he loves his job, he works seven days a week and says “there is always the risk of sharing too much and not having a private life.”

And although some make millions, for most the finances are unpredictable. YouTubers without sponsorships or merchandise make their money from advertising. This revenue is dependent on YouTube’s algorithm reaching viewers; whether an audience skips or blocks adverts; and which videos are monetised in the first place.

Then there is the pressure that comes with any kind of spotlight: YouTube comments can be notoriously spiteful. And this year, Logan Paul’s video of a dead body found in Japan resulted in a huge scandal. (Although he is still the 10th highest earner on the site.)

Is being a YouTuber a good job?

Buffering

Of course, say some. You can make a whole career out of being yourself and talking about your passions, whether that’s make-up or video games. You can find loyal, like-minded fans who are interested in what you have to say. And if you can make it work, the money is phenomenal.

It is not a good ambition, argue others. For one thing, most people never earn that kind of money. It is also an incredibly self-absorbed career. As Deborah Ross wrote in The Times last month, social media influencers should be renamed “detestable freeloaders”. They contribute nothing to society. That is no life.

You Decide

  1. Would you like to be a YouTuber?
  2. What do you value more in a potential career: money or purpose?

Activities

  1. Class debate: This house believes that vloggers contribute nothing to society.
  2. It’s time to make your own YouTube video! Film a video about your dream career. Include sections on what the job involves, how much you can earn and why it appeals to you. Share it with the rest of your class.

Some People Say...

“If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be doing classic guitar solos on YouTube.”

Peter Capaldi

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Around 1.3 billion people use YouTube. (That’s just under one fifth of the global population.) Around 300 hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute. In January this year, YouTube changed the rules about who can earn money from adverts after some videos promoting terror were found to be running adverts. Channels now need over 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of viewing time each year.
What do we not know?
The percentage of YouTuber hopefuls who are able to make a living from the site long-term — although it is likely to be very small. We also do not know how long the site will remain popular with users, or whether the highest earning YouTubers will continue to grow their incomes so quickly.

Word Watch

Unboxing
YouTube speak for opening and reviewing new products.
Sponsorships
When brands pay for their products to be featured in a video or social media post. YouTubers in the UK are supposed to label when content is paid for by an advertiser.
One third
According to a survey of 1,000 six to 17-year-olds by the travel company First Choice in May.
Merchandise
All 10 of the highest earning YouTubers had their own merchandise. According to Forbes, this helped the top 10 increase their collective income by 42% since 2017.
Advertising
According to Forbes, top YouTubers can earn around $5 for every 1,000 views.
Algorithm
The artificial intelligence software which suggests new videos to users based on what they have watched before. It is based on several factors, including how long people watch a video and whether others have clicked on it based on the title and thumbnail. (This is what makes clickbait and controversy so successful.)
Monetised
YouTube has become stricter about which videos will be “monetised”, meaning the videos which earn money from adverts.